2018 Renault Koleos review: Intens diesel

$46,990 Mrlp
  • Fuel Economy
    6.1L
  • Engine Power
    130kW
  • CO2 Emissions
    159g
  • ANCAP Rating
    N/A

Does new-found oiler power justify the $3500 premium ask the new Intens Diesel commands at the top of the Renault Koleos tree?

Twelve months on from its world debut launch in the Australian market, a new Intens Diesel variant has arrived to sit atop the second-generation Renault Koleos range that has been, to date, an all-petrol-powered affair. In doing so, it raises the price threshold of all the Koleos money can buy from the dethroned flagship petrol Intens AWD’s $43,490 list to $46,990 before on-roads. Or, in offer form at the time of writing, $50,490 drive-away.

Given that the Renault Koleos Intens Diesel is essentially the same specification as the petrol Intens with a compression-ignition heartbeat, opting for oiler power in the French mid-sized SUV comes with a $3500 premium.

That’d be a strange notion in prestige-branded middleweight family-hauling circles, where diesels are the price busters, though within the mainstream Asian SUV segment where the French upstart plays, not only are diesels the accepted indulgence but Renault’s tree-topper is competitively priced. Not only does the Koleos Diesel under-cut Mazda’s CX-5 Akera diesel and Volkswagen Tiguan 140TDI Highline – both $49,990 list – by three grand, it also saves $300 from the price of corporate cousin Nissan X-Trail TL Diesel ($47,290 list) with which it shares its platform and engine.

So far so favorable and, perhaps, predictable. In fact, right across the rest of the (petrol-powered) range, the Koleos proves slightly more affordable than rival marques’ directly competing variants. But what makes the task ahead of the flagship Diesel a challenge is that, to date, its gen-two petrol-powered Koleos kin have yet to rise above a 7.5-out-of-10 rating.

It’s hoped, then, that diesel power – or, more fittingly, torque – might drag the Koleos up and out of its slot in the middle of the mid-sized SUV pack.

It’s certainly not the size of the effort that’s lacking. Nudging 4.7 metres, it’s one of the larger jiggers in class and it’s certainly grown as a breed. Dimensionally, the Koleos doesn’t take up that much real estate, but it seems designers have gone to some effort to make it feel substantial. From the humongous chrome grille and formidable overhangs beyond its wheelbase, to the meaty door handles, bulging door skins and thick window pillars, a sense of heft and girth abounds.

Inside, the ‘big and chunky’ design theme continues, creating the sensation of a formidable barrier of metal and plastic between your loved ones and the dangerous world beyond the glass. The downside to the effect is the wieldy ambience: it’s a little tricky to judge its front and rear extremities when parking, and between the A-pillars that are as thick as a front-rower’s calves and the large wing mirrors, there’s quite the blind spot either side of the forward peripheral view.

As we’ve reported prior, it’s a pleasant cabin to spend time in. Typically Renault styling is charming and thankfully bereft of French ergonomic quirks, the central stack has a clean slickness and more than a little ‘new Volvo’ in a positive sense, and it ticks trendy design details in vogue today: a tablet-like touchscreen, conspicuous mood lighting, digital instrumentation – well, half of it – with software that allows the driver to change its look, in this case between four different instrument designs.

The perforated leather and double stitching balance out the iffy plastics in places, with pleasant if firmly padded buckets up front. The cabin depth is impressive, providing generous legroom in the second row, which offers sculpted seating perhaps favouring outboard accommodation better suited to two adults, rather than a flatter alternative better suited to a trio of kids. Dual air vents, reading lights, ample storage – the rear passenger space is perhaps the biggest improvement to the Koleos breed.

Unlike its X-Trail cousin, there’s no seven-seat option. But for a mid-sized five-seater, it’s roomy, flexible and practical, with cargo space expanding from 458L to a generous 1690L depending on how you position its 60:40 splitfold rear seats.

So far, so familiar. But, again, it’s the diesel powertrain that marks this variant as new, different and, well, most premium.

On numbers alone, the 130kW/380Nm 2.0-litre turbo diesel outstrips the 126kW/226Nm 2.5L petrol fitted elsewhere in the Koleos range. Is it better? You bet. Does it transform the French mid-sized SUV experience? Well, not exactly…

Whereas the petrol can struggle propelling the hefty Koleos, particularly tied to the all-wheel drive, there’s noticeably more shove with the diesel version. Not only is there more torque on tap, but the oiler’s 380Nm arrives at 2000rpm, much lower and therefore more useable in the rev-range than the petrol’s 4400rpm torque peak. Naturally, it’s a more effortless and satisfying experience.

Problem is, the diesel’s peak power lobs at just 3750rpm: its sweet operating range is a narrow 1750rpm window. The petrol 2.5L, with its 6000rpm redline, is no better, if no worse in useable rpm. And like the petrol, the diesel is tied to a continuously variable transmission that should be able to pluck that torque sweet spot through most of the driving experience. Instead, under acceleration the engine tends surge satisfyingly some of the time, and the CVT drops it off the boil at other times.

So thrust is better if, by way of powertrain calibration, not quite as impressively relentless and seamless as you might hope for. It’s no rocketship either, its leisurely claim of 9.5sec for the 0–100km/h measure just 0.3sec quicker than the petrol Intens 4x4, and exactly the same as the much more affordable front-driven petrol Life version. Not too surprising given that, at 1743kg, the Diesel is quite a bit heavier than either stablemate.

The diesel clatter is also quite noticeable, though nothing like a deal-breaker, but it does harness the on-demand all-wheel-drive system's tractive talents better and more noticeably than the petrol engine does. And by maintaining fuel economy within a ballpark of its maker’s 6.1 combined cycle claim, it’s markedly more efficient by a couple of litres per hundred, particularly around town.

Strangely, the Diesel is not the best option in range for towing, as it’s only rated for 1650kg braked. The petrol versions, in either front- or all-wheel drive, are rated at 2000kg braked.

Pliant ride, lightweight and easy to use steering, decent sound deadening – the around-town manners are pleasant. It’s comfortable and cosseting transit in either urban or country driving conditions, if generally fairly unremarkable. If there's a change or a chore in the day-to-day experience, it’s that it can be a handful when it comes to parking in tight spaces.

Ownership credentials are quite impressive: a five-year/unlimited-kilometre warranty with roadside assist throughout, with three years of capped-priced servicing plan of $299 per 12-month/30,000km interval.

Is the Diesel worth the $3500 premium over the Intens Petrol 4x4? For moments of more effortless shove and the fuel economy benefit, there’s an argument for yes. That’s it’s ostensibly no quicker than lesser, more affordable Koleos variants and doesn’t keep pace for towing, you could also say no.

This new price-topping flagship version does make for an extra alternative on a burgeoning medium-SUV landscape, but on evidence it’s no great leap forward. Depending on your particular needs, it might serve you better to save a few bucks shopping elsewhere in the Koleos range.

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